Long live the king?
It used to be that I would do anything to catch a new Simpson's episode. The series had been around so long I couldn't believe its creators were still cranking out new material. I was sure the series would be ending soon and I would never get to see a brand new day in the life of my favorite dysfunctional family again. But as we all know, most new episodes don't capture the brilliance of the series' storied past. There are so many good, old episodes I find myself more interested in watching the reruns than the new ones.
I find this to be true of the King of Fighters series, too. The newest entry in this 11 year-old series, King of Fighters 2002/2003 contains one comprehensive, retrospective game in King of Fighters 2002 and a more recent, innovative title that seemed as though it might usher in a new era for the series in King of Fighters 2003. Too bad that new era turned out to be King of Fighters: Maximum Impact. It's not saying much, but King of Fighters 2002/2003 is definitely the best King of Fighters title released on a console in a long time.
King of Fighters 02/03 is a two-pack port of the Neo Geo arcade games, a two-dimensional, team-based fighter with characters from early games like Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting drawn together in a tournament to prove their skills. Time and time again, they realize that the force behind the tournament is actually some despotic new regime out for world conquest. The force falls at the hands of the heroes, and then the cycle starts anew. While the story is often convoluted and nonsensical, the different characters are always interesting and the 'Engrish' rules. There are also standard extras, such as training modes, single matches, and an unlockable art gallery to earn.
In the 2003 and 2002 entries, each team consists of three fighters. Before the round begins, you select the order in which your fighters will compete. Every fighter has two punches and two kicks and can execute special moves via joystick rotations plus button combinations. If you've played a fighting game since '92, you know what we're talking about.
King of Fighters 02/03 is much more solid than its comparatively choppy predecessor, King of Fighters 00/01. There are only minimal framerate dips in 2002 and none in 2003. King of Fighters 00/01 also suffered from really unsightly compositing issues, such that the characters didn't match their backgrounds at all. This is not the case in King of Fighters 02/03, which offers you two sets of backgrounds, new and arcade, both of which match the character models perfectly. The new backgrounds involve lighter touches of 3D animation and some of the environments include objects that revolve between the foreground and background. While a neat idea, the revolving props get a little distracting, and they aren't interactive at all.
King of Fighters 2002 features an epic cast of characters including 44 fighters from 1996 to 2001. It's essentially an update to King of Fighters 1998 in that you can set up "Dream Matches" and pit every iteration of each fighter against every other. If you want to glimpse back at six years of King of Fighters history, King of Fighters 2002 contains most of it.
King of Fighters 2002 breaks up the fight into classic rounds. When one player is downed, a round ends, and the next fighter enters the arena. King of Fighters 2003, on the other hand, implements a tag-in, non-stop style. When one fighter is down, there is barely even a pause before the next one tags in, so no momentum is lost.
Even the music in King of Fighters 2003 sounds better, rising a notch above generic fight tunes. In both 2003 and 2002, Characters speak a garbledy-gook of muddled Japanese. It's pretty funny hearing classic American gal Blue Mary, as she prepares to battle Terry Bogard, scream "Let's fight, Terry!" with a heavy, heavy Asian accent. Yikes.
For such a late entry in an old series, King of Fighters 2003 is a relatively refreshing title. King of Fighters 2002, on the other hand, is a great look back at all the fighters of yesteryear. Combined, the two games give a pretty complete look at the history of the King of Fighters tournament. Even though both are over two years old, neither has ever been available before on a console, and the whole thing is forty dollars. While we're generally pretty suspicious of anthologies and collections of this sort, King of Fighters 02/03 is a good combination of two complementary games for a reasonable price. If you've been looking for a decent fight, look no further.